Covering water effectively, easily changing from dry flies to streamers and then methodically working across a fifty-foot wide riffle — this is how we find our fishing pace. It’s the way we transition from one section of water to the next. It’s about how smoothly we wade through pocket water with a nymph, picking apart the lanes and seams. It’s having the confidence to move to the next lane, the next level or the next tactic, because we’ve gotten good looks with the flies at the end of our line.
A good fishing pace leads us into the zone. Fly fishing is addictive, like so many other great pursuits, because the required focus takes our mind away from the rest of life until there is only one thing — the water in front of us. Add in the sights, sounds and scents of a trout stream, and there may be nothing more enjoyable than locking into a good fishing zone for a while.
Pace is something we control.
Casting accuracy can be intangible. Unseen snags on the riverbed can never be fully avoided, and cooperation from the trout themselves is very much out of our hands. Pace is our decision, but it’s fair to say that most anglers miss this point. Even those of us with a plan to cover water, change flies and efficiently work the river are distracted by the variables and curiosities of trout water. Or maybe we’re lulled into comfort and contentment by the aforementioned surroundings of a trout stream.
Good fishing comes from intention, from having a plan and following through. Surely, adjusting our plan along the way is part of the fun, but pace remains an element that every angler can set, every day.
Speed and Change
Pace is not only the speed at which we cover water, it’s also the ease at which we tie knots.
A good pace keeps us flowing from one idea to the next, testing our solutions in the next bubble seam and then another. We might cut back the tippet length to the dry for a little more punch through a changing headwind and then slide over to reach the soft outside seam that’s sliding down the edge of a new fallen log. These adjustments take time, but making them an efficient part of a larger process preserves the pace.
There are pauses, there are moments in a good day of fishing, when we are static. But while tying knots, we scan the water beyond our fingertips for the next clue. We pull the knot tight, then follow the bank-side rise or move to the shade line. Keep the pace.
Maybe we wade through a mile of water in a long morning, or perhaps we cover just a hundred yards of a wide river. A good fishing pace need not be fast, but it should flow and be efficient.
The waters I fished as a young angler were often no wider than the dirt roads that led me there. Tributaries called to me far more than did larger rivers. Many of these tribs held wild trout, and the scenery of mountains and wilderness beat out concrete buildings and iron bridges every time.
So I learned, early on, the joy of setting a good pace. And small streams are wonderful teachers for so many things in fly fishing.
When spooky native brook trout would scatter at the sight of my bad cast, I would simply move upstream, endlessly finding new opportunities and fresh trout. I’d hit the plunge pool with a dozen casts that landed and explored something new each time. Maybe I’d catch one or two trout there and move to the next level to fish the inside riffle along a grassy bank.
Those small streams taught me the value of moving — not fast, but within my means. Because an unplanned approach led to chaos, with my tippet in the trees, necessitating wholesale rig changes. But smoothly working the creek with a good pace led me into hours of fishing where nothing else mattered but the next cast and the next trout. Finding a good pace might be the most important thing out there.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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